The Head Voice and Other Problems

Publication details: 1919. Boston: Oliver Ditson.

Who was David Alva Clippinger? No biographical information is available.

What is The Head Voice and Other Problems: Practical Talks on SingingThis book addresses a variety of vocal pedagogy topics including “voice placing”, the head voice, breath control, vocal registration, and “scientific” voice production. Clippinger believed that voice science had added very little to the process of teaching singing, and sharply questioned whether it was possible for an artist to also be a scientist.

Great Quotes from The Head Voice and Other Problems:

“The singing world is confronted with a situation unique in its humor. On every side we hear the lacrymose lament that voice training is in a chaotic condition, that bel canto is a lost art, and that the golden age of song has vanished from the earth. The unanimity of this dolorous admission would seem to be a sad commentary on the fraternity of voice teachers; but here enters the element of humor. There is not a single instance of a voice teacher admitting that his own knowledge of the voice is chaotic. He will admit cheerfully and oftentimes with ill concealed enthusiasm that every other teacher’s knowledge is in a chaotic condition, but his own is a model of order and intelligence.” (Clippinger 28)

“It is this natural, inborn desire to sing that is directly responsible for the amazing perseverance of many vocal students If after a year or two of study they find they are wrong they are not greatly disturbed, but select another teacher, firm in the faith that eventually they will find the right one and be safely led to the realization of their one great ambition—to be an artist. It is this that has kept the art alive through the centuries and will perpetuate it. This impulse to sing is something no amount of bad teaching can destroy.” (Clippinger 29)

“Now this is what confronts the teacher whenever a student comes for a lesson. He has before him a mentality that has been influenced not only by its present environment, but by everything that has preceded it. “Man is,” as an old philosopher said, “a bundle of habits,” and habits are mental trends. His point of view is the product of his experience, and it will be different from that of every one else. . . . Understanding this, it will be seen how futile would be a fixed formula for all students, and how necessarily doomed to failure any method of voice training which makes anatomy and physiology its basis.” (Clippinger 40-41)

“More is known of vocal mechanism today than at any other time in the world’s history, and yet who dares to say that voice teaching has been improved by it? Is voice teaching any more accurate now than it was a hundred years ago? Did the invention of the laryngoscope add anything of value to the voice teacher’s equipment? No. Even the inventor of it said that all it did was to confirm what he had always believed.” (Clippinger 44)

“Few of us ever have an original idea. We trail along from fifty to a hundred years behind those we are trying to imitate. When there is little else but imitation going on in the world, why deny it to vocal students? The argument against imitation can come from but two classes of people—those who cannot produce a good tone and those who are more interested in how the tone is made than in the tone itself.” (Clippinger 54)

“The singing lesson is a small part of what the student carries with him. The atmosphere of the studio, which is the real personality of the teacher, his ideals, aims, the depth of his sincerity, in short, his concept of the meaning of life, goes with the student and will be remembered when the lesson is forgotten.” (Clippinger 63)

The artist always has in mind the finished product. The scientist tries to find out how it is done. The artist begins with the idea and works forward to its complete expression. The scientist begins with the physical mechanism and works backward toward the idea.” (Clippinger 98)

Hover the cursor over any quote to pause it.

Note: The quotes I have selected do not necessarily reflect my own views on the subjects they address, and they may not be scientifically accurate. They were chosen because they are representative of the author’s views. –Dr. Nielsen